Music has a powerful effect on our emotions. We often listen to music that reflects what we are feeling. For example, if you feel happy, you’ll likely listen to joyful music, or if you feel sad you might listen to something more soothing and somber. We can also use music to evoke a desired emotion. If you feel sad and maybe you want to feel happy you might listen to some upbeat music to help change your mood.

From listening to a soothing lullaby to an upbeat spunky song that gets our body moving, music has a full range of possibilities. This is also true for your baby. Babies from 24 weeks gestation on, can hear sounds easily through the womb.

Here are some ideas on how to use music to create a deeper bond and create a more soothing experience with your baby throughout pregnancy, labor, birth, and with your newborn.

Music During Pregnancy

Pregnancy and musicPick music you find particularly soothing and fun to listen to. Play that tune everyday – close to your belly or just in the room with you.  Your baby will come to recognize it and it may be useful to use when your baby is fussy in the early days at home.

Find a soothing tune and replay the same music every time you fall asleep. This will help the baby habituate to this music for settling down.  The same music can then be played when you are putting the baby to sleep.

Music During Labor

Before labor, make several play lists for each of the phases of labor.  It is proven that the perception of pain is less when we are listening to music as it uses some of the same pathways in our brain. Research has shown music in labor may help shorten its length.

Early labor – Choose music you like to listen to.

Active labor – Choose music that is relaxing.

Pushing – Choose music with higher energy.

After birth – Choose music that is celebratory and happy.

Bring your music already loaded onto a digital device and bring a speaker if you have one. The midwifery service may also have Bluetooth speakers available for you to use.

Music for a Newborn

music and newbornsClassical music has a more complex musical structure than say rock or country. Babies as young as 3 months can pick out the structure of classical music and even recognize music selections they have heard before.

Researchers think the complexity of classical music is what primes the brain to solve spatial problems more quickly. So listening to classical music may have different effects on the brain than listening to other types of music.

This doesn’t mean that other types of music aren’t good. Listening to any kind of music helps build music-related pathways in the brain. And music can have positive effects on our moods that may make learning easier. Here are some ideas to use music to help build the bond between you and your child as well as to help encourage learning in your newborn.

Play music for your baby.
Expose your baby to many different musical selections of various styles. If you play an instrument, practice when your baby is nearby, but keep the volume moderate. Loud music can damage a baby’s hearing.

Sing to your baby.
It doesn’t matter how well you sing. Hearing you sing helps your baby begin to learn language. Babies love the patterns and rhythms of songs. And even young babies can recognize specific melodies once they’ve heard them.

Sing with your child.
As children grow, they may enjoy singing with you. Setting words to music actually helps the brain learn them more quickly and retain them longer. That’s why we remember the lyrics of songs we sang as children, even if we haven’t heard them in years.

Listen to NPR’s playlist for newborns.

Martha Churchill is a certified nurse-midwife at the University of Vermont Medical Center and an adjunct professor and clinical instructor at the UVM College of Nursing and Health Sciences.

Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont.

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